The college football news cycle has been out of control over the last few days.
After an eventful Saturday of games, a 36-hour period on Sunday and Monday saw the indefinite leave of USC coach Steve Sarkisian and his subsequent firing, the firing of Maryland coach Randy Edsall (a few days after word of his likely firing leaked), the abrupt retirement of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the season-long suspension of Florida starting quarterback Will Grier.
North Texas coach Dan McCarney was also fired on Saturday, immediately following the Mean Green's embarrassing 66-7 loss to Portland State an FCS team. Throw in Tim Beckman's preseason firing at Illinois, and the 2015 season has already seen coaching upheavals in the Big Ten (twice), Pac-12, SEC and Conference USA, in addition to the three-game suspension of Rutgers coach Kyle Flood.
The coaching carousel is already heating up, and there's still over half the season left to play. In other words, December is shaping up to be as busy as ever. So here's a guide to what could be next for the five open jobs -- including unlikely dream scenarios -- in addition to a analysis of jobs that could come open by mid-December.
USC is still trying to recapture the magic of the Pete Carroll era, but it's running out of Carroll's assistants to hire. It's clear that the Trojans need to be looking forward, not backward, unless Carroll for some reason decided that he wanted to return. This has been a mess for a few years now, but it's still USC: a program with a ton of history (11 national titles), recent success, the Los Angeles location and great recruiting territory. It is a prestigious, high-profile program that is never far from the spotlight.
All of those characteristics make USC a premier job -- one of the most appealing in all of college football -- which means that just about any coach should be interested. However, the above characteristics also mean that USC isn't necessarily a great fit for everyone. While Chris Petersen would have been a great hire for whomever convinced him to leave Boise State, his low-key personality was a much better fit at a place like Washington than USC.
Dream candidate: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles. Rumors of a job change probably aren't going stop until he wins a Super Bowl. His name was foolishly thrown around even in the past couple years when the Eagles were a 10-win team. Kelly doesn't love recruiting, though, and the glitz and glamour and booster influence at USC aren't exactly a selling point for him. He'd succeed at USC, but he might not see it as a perfect fit. Plus, there's the fact that he still does, in fact, have an NFL job that he's not going to leave voluntarily to go back to college.
Plausible candidates: Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, Houston head coach Tom Herman, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
It's always hard to tell who's actually willing to take the job. Whittingham has done a terrific job at Utah, and there have been some clashes with the athletic department. Herman is a rising star, and it's a matter of whether USC would give him the job so soon into his head coaching career. USC didn't get Petersen, so maybe it can target one of his protégés in Harsin. Sumlin has a great gig at Texas A&M, but USC had some interest in him last time. USC would be a big upgrade for Fitzgerald, but he might not want to leave the stability of his alma mater. There is a long, lost list of coaches who might make sense as targets, but there's no one obvious choice. So we might as well get the Jon Gruden speculation rolling too.
2. South Carolina
The retirement of 70-year-old Steve Spurrier wasn't unexpected this season, but nobody saw it coming suddenly in October. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will finish out the season as interim coach, while the Gamecocks will begin an intriguing search to fill the full-time position. This is a better job than it used to be, but it's still a big challenge -- especially with in-state rival Clemson on a roll in a state that doesn't produce a ton of top-level talent. South Carolina has never won an SEC title since joining the conference in 1992 (it won the SEC East in 2010), and it has finished ranked in the AP poll only nine times ever. It's an SEC job with a good fan base and a big stadium, but it's also competing for talent with Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and many others. So, the question is: How much has Spurrier boosted the profile?
Dream candidate: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. Dantonio played at South Carolina in the 1970s, and over the last decade he's established himself as one of the nation's best head coaches. He succeeded at Cincinnati, and he has built Michigan State into a consistent winner, with a 99-48 record overall. While Dantonio does have ties to South Carolina, he's spent nearly his entire coaching career in the Midwest. There's also little reason to leave what he's built in East Lansing.
Plausible candidates: Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, SMU head coach Chad Morris, Utah State head coach Matt Wells, Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt
Fuente is bound to get a coaching job somewhere, and if he's going to get into the SEC, perhaps this is the spot. Fuente succeeded as TCU's offensive coordinator, and now he's done the improbable at Memphis as head coach, going 10-3 last year and starting this season 5-0. This season may be the perfect time to jump to a bigger job, especially if quarterback Paxton Lynch decides to turn pro. Smart and Pruitt both have great coordinator gigs in the SEC, and both are bound to be head coaches at some point. Smart has been exceedingly patient waiting for the right gig. Wells was actually born in Columbia, although he has spent nearly all of his football career in the West (that didn't stop Florida from hiring Jim McElwain). Morris is a long shot after one season at SMU, but it would be fun to see Clemson's former offensive coordinator return to the state on a rival's sideline. He's more likely to move up to a bigger job in the state of Texas at some point.
Maryland has a solid recruiting location in the D.C. area, and it has the backing of Under Armour mega booster Kevin Plank, plus rising Big Ten money. Then again, it's in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State, and it has finished ranked in the AP poll just four times since 1985. After going for the conservative hire in Edsall, there's a good chance Maryland will veer in the opposite direction, if the right candidate is available (no, Chip Kelly is not going to be available to Maryland, please stop).
Dream candidate: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. Rodriguez was a target when Maryland hired Edsall, and athletic director Kevin Anderson has indicated that he's interest in bringing exciting offense to College Park. Rodriguez fits the bill, and he has ties to the area, thanks to his success as head coach at West Virginia. Rodriguez won a Pac-12 South title last year, but Plank's money is a wild card. Rodriguez is already on his third head coaching stop, and after the Michigan debacle, he may be content with a stable job at Arizona, rather than returning to the Big Ten to face the Wolverines every year.
Plausible candidates: Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers, former Rutgers/Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, Toledo head coach Matt Campbell, Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, Temple head coach Matt Rhule
Babers got the ball rolling on Edsall's firing by torching the Terrapins 48-27 in Byrd Stadium in Week 2. He checks a lot of boxes: He's a journeyman coach, but in the past several years he's learned from Art Briles as an assistant at Baylor, gone 12-2 at Eastern Illinois at the FCS level (Jimmy Garoppolo thrived under him) and now has Bowling Green's offense lighting up the scoreboard. Schiano is likely too similar to Edsall, but he's proven that he can win at a similar job. Campbell and Fleck are both rising young stars in the MAC West, and Rhule has Temple undefeated halfway through the season.
Illinois has had the whole season to think about its new coach after firing Tim Beckman a week before the season began. Illinois isn't an easy job, but it's probably a step above some of its conference rivals, like Purdue and Indiana, and it plays in the easier Big Ten division in the West. The problem is that much of its relevance occurred in the 1910s. Only twice in its history has Illinois finished ranked in back-to-back seasons.
Dream candidate: Justin Fuente, Memphis. Fuente's success at Memphis probably puts him out of Illinois' reach at this point, because other teams like South Carolina (and possibly Maryland) could come calling. He'd be a great get, though, given what he's quickly done with a moribund Memphis team, and that he was an assistant at Illinois State from 2001-06.
Plausible candidates: Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers, Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini, Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm, Illinois interim head coach Bill Cubit
Babers is a great candidate, given his immediate success on offense at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green as a head coach after getting tutored by Art Briles. Fleck would bring a ton of needed energy and recruiting prowess to the program, but he's only 34. Pelini would probably love to get a shot at Nebraska every year. Brohm might be unlikely, given that he was a member of Ron Zook's staff, but he has Western Kentucky's offense rolling as the Conference USA favorite. Cubit has done a solid job right so far with a 4-2 start, and he finished above .500 in eight seasons as Western Michigan's head coach.
5. North Texas
While the Mean Green are located in the excellent recruiting grounds of the Dallas-For Worth area, there is obviously a ton of competition, with 11 other FBS schools calling Texas home -- and many others attempting to find recruits in the Lone Star State. North Texas is near the bottom of the pecking order, especially when it does things like lose to Portland State by 59 points. McCarney was fired quickly after the game. In the last five years, North Texas' best recruiting class, according to 247Sports, ranked 97th nationally. The Mean Green went to a bowl game in 2013, but the last decade has otherwise been a disaster as they shuffled from the end of the Darrell Dickey era (he won four Sun Belt titles from 2001-04) to high school coach Todd Dodge to McCarney, the ex-Iowa State head coach.
Dodge and McCarney represent two of the routes schools like this can go: the outside-the-box risk, and the known quantity former power conference head coach. What's next? "Proven assistant coach with ties to Texas" sounds about right. In an ideal world, that would be someone like one of TCU's co-offensive coordinators, Sonny Cumbie or Doug Meacham, or maybe even Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. But North Texas can be a risky head coaching job to take, given its history, and it's likely that none of them would leave a stable position for a head coaching job like this, when other more appealing options could present themselves in the next few years. For reference, McCarney's salary was $720,000, according to USA Today.
Fresno State. Two years ago, Tim DeRuyter was a candidate for bigger jobs. He went 9-4 and 11-2 in his first two seasons, with the help of Derek Carr. Since then, he's 7-13, with only one win this season -- the opener against Abilene Christian. All five 2015 losses have been by at least two touchdowns.
Idaho. Idaho's future in the Sun Belt isn't even guaranteed. Paul Petrino -- the brother of Bobby -- has gone 1-11 and 1-10, and he's opened this season by sparking a feud with a local newspaper and going 1-4. The only win was a 41-38 nail-biter against Wofford. This is one of the toughest FBS jobs, but somebody can likely do better than Petrino, because doing better would mean two wins in a season.
Iowa State. Paul Rhoads is immensely likable, but at some point there will have to be results. There hasn't be a ton to celebrate in Ames since the 2011 upset of Oklahoma State. Rhoads' best record was 7-6 in his debut in 2009, and the last two years he went 3-9 and 2-10. This year, the Cyclones are 2-3, with wins over Kansas and Northern Iowa. They'll be underdogs in every game the rest of the season. That's hardly unusual for Iowa State, which is a very tough job, but the Cyclones can't get on like this forever.
Miami. Planes flying "Fire Al Golden" banners seem to show up at every Miami game. The Hurricanes held on to beat Nebraska after blowing a huge fourth-quarter lead, but now they've dropped games to Cincinnati and Florida State. The bottom has fallen out after losses to Florida State the last couple years, and Miami plays Virginia Tech, Clemson and Duke the next three weeks, a stretch that will dictate whether it can contend for a winnable division title. Golden is capable of being a good head coach, but Miami doesn't feel like the right fit. If he goes, it's possible someone like Rutgers or Illinois could target him, and he would be a fine choice.
Purdue. Making Purdue competitive isn't exactly easy, but there have to be clear signs of progress in the standings. Danny Hope went to a bowl game in his final season. Darrell Hazell is 5-25 in two-and-a-half seasons, with just one Big Ten win so far. In a weak West Division, he's going to have to do more.
Rutgers. It's sort of amazing that five coaches have exited already this season, and Flood isn't one of them. Then again, this is Rutgers. Anything is possible. Rutgers has had a rash of legal trouble, and Flood just finished a three-game suspension for improper contact with a professor about a player's academic status. Rutgers needs to clean house with both Flood and athletic director Julie Hermann.
South Florida. Willie Taggart was universally hailed a strong hire, due to his Florida roots, his work under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and his building of Western Kentucky as head coach. But it just hasn't worked out yet. Taggart is 8-21 at South Florida, with a 2-3 record this year. The Bulls did just beat Syracuse 45-24, and hopefully that's a sign of things to come.
Syracuse. After going 7-6 in his debut, Scott Shafer fell to 3-9 in a 2014 season filled with bad luck. The Orange started 3-0 this year, but after giving LSU a game in a loss, they just got blown out by South Florida. Syracuse went 1-7 in the ACC last year, and it can't afford a repeat.
UCF. George O'Leary stepped down as interim athletic director, but that doesn't appear to be enough. He's had plenty of success at UCF, going 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win in 2013 and going 9-4 last year. All of which makes this season's downfall so baffling. The Knights are 0-6, with losses to FIU and Furman, plus a blowout home loss to Connecticut last week. The 69-year-old O'Leary may need to follow in the footsteps of Spurrier.
Virginia. It would help if Virginia's schedule wasn't so brutal, with UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State among the first four games. Virginia lost all three, and Mike London was put into a hole that he's unlikely to escape this time. Virginia hasn't gone to a bowl game since 2011, London's second season, and it hasn't beaten rival Virginia Tech since 2003.
Virginia Tech. This feels more and more like a Mack Brown at Texas situation, in which Frank Beamer could be pushed out after a long run of success. He basically invented Virginia Tech football and was one of the most consistently successful coaches in the country for 15 years, but the Hokies just can't seem to fix their problems on offense. After eight straight double-digit-win seasons, the Hokies are 25-20 in the last three-plus seasons. They had high hopes this year, but back-to-back losses to East Carolina and Pitt quickly reinforced doubts.